When I first saw the covers for Ally Carter’s Gallagher Girls series, I almost didn’t buy them. The covers seem, at first glance, maybe a little young. But then I kept thinking about how clever all of the titles to the books were and I changed my mind. Boy am I glad I did.

The Gallagher Girls books tell the story of Cammie “The Chameleon” Morgan. Cammie is one of those girls who can blend in anywhere – can slip into the background of  crowd without anyone ever even remembering she was there. This is excellent news for Cammie because Cammie…is a spy. A super awesome, super capable spy-in-training at the Gallagher Academy, a school for exceptional young women. The four books in the series, I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You, Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy, Don’t Judge a Girl by her Cover, and Only The Good Spy Young, follow Cammie as she learns that balancing the life of a spy and that of a sixteen (then seventeen) year old girl is tougher than she could have imagined.

My favorite thing about these books – and Ally Carter’s books in general – is that she creates strong, capable female leads to her novels who still have personality and who still seem like real teenagers. Cammie and her best friends, Bex , Liz, and Macey, could all take down a grown criminal with their own bare hands. But that’s balanced with the late night girl talk and boy trouble that most girls have. Sure, Cammie and her friends approach the problem differently – repel wires and computer hacking, anyone? – but the problem is there just the same.

This balance makes Cammie one of the most infinitely likable and relatable characters I’ve read in a long time. And the best thing is, she gets better with every book. She doesn’t stagnate or regress. With each new book in the series, Cammie grows a little bit and gets a little stronger and learns a little more about herself. There are no big, after-school-special cheesy revelations, just the kinds of everyday life lessons we all take with us just by going through the day. The closest thing I can compare this to is the kind of growth Harry had through all of the Harry Potter books. There aren’t easy answers and sometimes things are hard and sometimes you don’t always react the best way, but it’s natural and real and makes Cammie someone you can root for.

The background characters in this series are also a real strength. Bex and Liz and Macey are all very different characters, but you see the same stubborn, capable, sympathetic streak in all of them. It’s easy to imagine why these three girls are friends with Cammie, and easy to imagine how they all ended up friends. The loyalty and sisterhood among these girls is inspiring, and it’s nice to see female relationships that are bout supporting each other rather than backstabbing. I especially love Liz. Liz is the least physically capable of the three – though I imagine she could still kick my butt – and “field missions” freak her out, but she always sucks it up and goes along because she’s a part of their team. And she always recognizes her strengths along with her weaknesses, and she’s proud of the former and refuses to be ashamed of the latter.

Then there are Cammie’s love interests. Well, love interest. The one problem I’ve had with these books is that the first book doesn’t necessarily go with the other three. Yes, Cammie takes the lessons from book one and applies them throughout the series, but the ending of the book seems kind of glossed over in the subsequent novels. And the first boy to notice Cammie is kind of forgotten. Which…when you get to know Zach, he kind of makes you forget about poor other guy anyway.

The plot of each novel is fast paced and engaging and will leave you on the edge of your seat. Aside from my (minor) quibble with the first book, each book builds on the other. There is a main mystery running throughout each novel, but each book is self-contained enough that not only could you read it alone (which I think is the test for a good sequel), but it makes the individual installments more exciting and fun because there’s a beginning and an end to each segment of the main plot. And each of those segments packs a punch. I’m pretty desperate for these books to be movies because they’d just be so action packed and exciting and it would be a bunch of girls kicking butt and taking names.

I can’t recommend The Gallagher Girls series enough. It’s smart without being smug, fun while still having some meat, and addictive like Pringles – I defy you to read one without wanting the rest of the books RIGHT NOW OMG. As such, it’s time for a giveaway! I’m going to giveaway not just one, but ALL of Ally Carter’s excellent series. I’ll be sending the first three novels in paperback and the most recent novel in hardcover to a lucky winner who is located in the US or Canada (books are heavy, international people, and I’m sowwy). All you have to do is leave a comment on this entry telling me who’s your favorite spy and why between now and Saturday, August 28 at midnight CST to be entered.

Good luck!

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